English: Megaphone icon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Last week, I wrote that God speaks to ordinary people in different ways. This might be surprising to some who believe that today, He speaks only through His written Word, or to others who believe He’s a daily chatterbox. I believe that God communicates any way and any time He chooses.
After all, He designed us to live in a physical environment, but also equipped us to perceive and interact with a spiritual one. It’s unfortunate that this is generally considered acceptable and normal for biblical people, but highly suspect for us. Who are we to automatically dismiss or attack modern-day visions, mental images, and one-on-one voice encounters? No wonder God can seem such a stranger!
So, this week, I thought I’d share an awesome encounter of my own.
First, I’ve always been more assertive than my husband, a quiet, laid back kind of guy. But in 1988, I struggled while he was on a one-year Air Force assignment overseas. I was left with three kids aged 4, 5, and 6, not to mention managing what little money there was, running the household, and working split shifts at my job—all isolated from extended family.
Before and during his absence, I had been reading Christian articles about supposedly ideal Godly mothers. They don’t usurp their husbands’ authority; they submit. Godly mothers don’t lead; they follow because husbands are stand-ins for Christ. So I had tried to suppress my take-charge personality. Yet, despite doing everything “right,” my life wasn’t following their script.
So I remember sitting on the living room floor one night, head in my hands, sobbing and praying. In my own familiar thought-voice (for lack of a better term), my mind was a tornado. What was I doing wrong? Where was God? I must be the worst mother ever. This went on for maybe 15 minutes.
Then, suddenly, a different Voice—like an audible laser beam, calm and unruffled, clear but not booming. “I want you to raise a proper family.”
It’s hard to explain, but it came from outside me, yet within—not in the other room or outside the house. I somehow recognized it as not my own; and it completely disrupted my mental flailing and tears. I was so startled, in fact, that I snapped my head up expecting to see a glowing figure, but saw nothing.
The Voice knew that I knew what proper meant, so that wasn’t spelled out. The command wasn’t as much instruction as it was reassurance and permission—as if to say, “I know how tired and confused you are, pulled in every direction. Why don’t you try it My way? Just do what you know to be right, and stop listening to everyone else.” Somehow, this was all conveyed in a single sentence.
I, myself, was at a loss for words, feeling tremendous relief and gratitude, but at the same time, energized. I guess the astonishing thing isn’t that it occurred, but that God spoke in a way that I instantly understood. I knew exactly what direction to take in leading my kids to integrity, character, and strong faith, even without an agenda.
Looking back, I realize that was the start of my long exodus from what’s now called “nominal Christianity,” though I didn’t know it then. I’ve since learned that God’s will is to create a world of ruler-servants—men and women—who don’t need to be told every move to make.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21) is about taking charge of your life without running people over and without getting run over yourself. There’s a sensible balance to it that fulfills the life and glory God happily shares, communicates, and wants us to have. The lives we’re living now are the starter kingdoms in which we practice.
I think people hear God more than they realize, but for various reasons, don’t recognize Him. They assume it’s just their own stream of consciousness, or that they’re crazy, or worse, possessed by Satan. Hectic life-styles can also drown out the voice of God.
Lack of interaction is just one more way to be robbed of our inheritance. So let’s examine the two most common views, centuries old, that persist today in rendering God’s voice unrecognizable.
1. The Impersonal God
God currently communicates only through His written Word, or, alternatively, through the clergy/church. God doesn’t speak directly to ordinary people.
It’s been said that Christians have a better relationship with their Bibles than they do with the Author. For all the talk of walking closely with God, many treat “extra-biblical” communication like extra-marital affairs: both are “whispers of the devil.”
It’s amazing how much personal distance is actually infused in Christian culture. God dwells somewhere in outer space. His kingdom is strictly future. He can’t stand to be in the presence of sin(ners), as if sin is the Almighty’s kryptonite. Church leadership often states that, because God is so pure, we can’t relate to Him.
Half-truths pick our pockets every day.
The Good News is the opposite. God relates to sinners even in their sinful state. Unlike elite-minded religious experts of his day, Jesus walked among sinners, dined and spoke with them, even touched them without holding his nose. The very name Immanuel means God-with-man.
Relationship involves communication, interaction, and recognition. Isn’t their absence the definition of no relationship? God wants to be sought and delights in being known. Like a Bluetooth device, He’s discoverable and forms a direct, ongoing connection.
If invited, God is the still, small voice in your “house,” i.e., you. It’s internal, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and as clearly heard as anyone living in your regular house. According to Jesus, “If anyone loves me…my Father will love him, and we will make our home with him.” (Jhn. 14:23)
Also, “What I whisper in your ear, proclaim from the rooftops.” (Mat. 10:27) “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jhn. 10:27) “I in them and [God] in me…I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known… that I myself may be in them.” (Jhn. 17:23, 26) The Holy Spirit is Jesus’ continuing presence and voice.
There’s no reason to assume that God, like Elvis, has left the building and bequeathed to us only stone tablets, holy manuscripts, or certain spokespeople. We have those, plus prayer and direct access. So God’s voice isn’t “just imagination.” But neither is it on-demand, which brings us to…
2. The Nanny God
God currently speaks to the heart, but if you don’t hear Him every day, your faith must be weak.
This hand-holding God is either angered or worried by all we do. Rather than teach us trustworthy rulership, He seizes our will and does our thinking for us even in the most trivial matters. I suppose it stems from the crippling belief that people are incapable of ever making decisions without sinning. We’re no-good sinners and will always be no-good sinners in this life.
First, I think Christians confuse “conviction of the Holy Spirit” with condemnation of the Holy Spirit. But if the voice is condemning, it’s the Accuser. The Holy Spirit is your Advocate and Comforter, not your blamer. And shame/humiliation shouldn’t be confused with humility.
Conviction of the Holy Spirit is better understood as convincing of truth and good will, a welcoming call and sense of place with God. There’s no condemnation, neither giving nor receiving it, for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1) because the priority is to love God, self, and neighbor.
Second, if my grown kids still need me to tell them how to get dressed, brush their teeth, and which bus to get on each day, I’ve done something wrong (assuming no medical impairment). We teach and expect our kids to grow into wise, capable people of sound judgment and good character, so isn’t God at least as competent as we are?
Why do we assume He’s pleased with daily questions about what to do and what color shirt to wear? That’s a fairly distorted view of surrender.
Obviously, we want God involved in life’s decisions. But to be paralyzed if He doesn’t dictate all of them, including who to marry, what career to pursue, or whether to buy that house or not, isn’t what He wants.
We need instruction, but the idea is to “graduate” as we go along. God has already revealed His will that we learn to rule and serve appropriately, so He doesn’t speak as frequently as some might claim. In fact, He periodically lets go just as any parent lets go of a toddler’s hand so she can take a few steps on her own. It’s an empowering act of love, not abandonment, called “testing.”
I know that if we ask, seek, and knock through prayer and careful consideration, God may very well have something to say, whether through the Bible, a spokesperson, or directly. But if He doesn’t speak within maybe a week (depending on the situation), don’t panic. That’s a good sign! The more trustworthy the servant, the more God gives.
So, in those times, walk in faith. Thank Him for the practice opportunity, and make your best choices in whatever you face. Afterwards, you’ll likely hear either “Well done!” or “What did you learn?” Either way, I believe you’ll be much richer.
Why did Jesus focus on love for God, self, and neighbor? Why all the practice in living well? Because we’re born to rule and serve creation with God. That’s why salvation isn’t just about forgiveness, but about new life, learning to rule without causing harm. And to prepare, we need divine leadership—the Shepherd, Teacher, and Provider.
That said, let me share three life-changing observations:
The Future (Vision)
I used to see God’s kingdom as strictly future-oriented. But what if this is only partially true? What if the whole truth is that God’s kingdom on Earth is in process now, not yet full, but well underway since Jesus announced its presence among us?
Several years ago, I was reading a retirement-panning article that mentioned setting aside an inheritance. I suddenly wondered why we always associate inheritance with death. Why don’t we ever associate it with living, something you get when you’re born? Don’t we inherit personal traits, living arrangements, and social/financial circumstances at birth?
A light bulb went off—that’s what Jesus meant! The kingdom isn’t set aside; it’s all around, near, at hand. Inheriting its riches is a matter of stepping into its life-style—re-birth. And Jesus brought the keys. (more…)
Jesus didn’t make sense to me until I grasped his view of life, the soul, and salvation. The following was a huge revelation:
- Life is the whole life, a single continuum from conception through physical death, extending to the afterlife, then bodily resurrection, and, as Bud Lightyear would say, to infinity and beyond.
- A soul is the whole person, the self—mind, heart, body/substance, and behavior/relationships. When God saves a soul, He doesn’t save a piece of the person and forget the rest. Even after death, people continue to think, act, and interact with other people and creatures.
- Ruin is to be broken, dysfunctional. Lost means to be out of place. Both are Death.
- Salvation is deliverance from Death. It restores the whole person and entire life to compatible place with God and others. It is life lived with Him wherever you are.
- Forgiveness is to salvation what birth is to living.
Accordingly, the gospel is about new life, about becoming the kind of person Jesus is in mind, spirit, body, and behavior. The good news is that God’s kingdom is here and at hand for any soul who wants to enter that life. Disciple-students of Jesus learn from him how to live in freedom, the power of knowing God, and secure love for one another.
You enter God’s kingdom not by dying or by drifting, but by living—by venturing on Jesus. In a word, you seek. God, of course, wants to be sought and delights in being found. That’s why He doesn’t barge through our doors. He also seeks us and celebrates when we’re found. (more…)